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Recapping the Expansion Draft

by Scott Burnside @OvertimeScottB /

LAS VEGAS - From an excited owner to an instant fan favorite (and three-time Stanley Cup winner) and a slew of draft picks, the Vegas Golden Knights became a living, breathing hockey team with suitable Vegas fanfare.

The long-awaited expansion draft was wedged into the middle of the annual awards ceremony Wednesday night with owner Bill Foley and GM George McPhee announcing the selections from all 30 NHL teams.

Surprises? Yes. Trades? A few of those, too.

What do we know about the newest NHL franchise? Read on.

Let's start with the team's biggest star and the most interesting moment of the night when longtime Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who appeared on stage in a new Golden Knights jersey and received a standing ovation, crossed paths with longtime pal and teammate Sidney Crosby outside the media area at T-Mobile Arena.

"Yeah it was a little weird," Crosby said. "I think it hasn't probably sunk in yet but to see him in a different jersey was definitely a little weird."

Fleury, who owns three of the four Stanley Cup rings that the Golden Knights roster owns, said he's been doing some reading up on the team and he and his wife will spend the next little while looking around Vegas for a house.

We mentioned a couple of days ago that at least for a short time McPhee was the most powerful man in hockey. He wielded that power masterfully collecting a total of 11 draft picks, including three first-round picks in this year's draft (they did send Columbus's first-round pick to Winnipeg for the Jets' first-round pick on Friday). Heading into Friday, they own the 6th, 13th and 15th overall picks and there is persistent discussion that Vegas would like to move up in the draft, which could impact the Dallas Stars who have the third pick.

The New York Islanders gave up a boatload to keep their roster intact, sending Mikhail Grabovski, netminder J.F. Berube, a first-round draft pick, a second-round draft pick and prospect Jake Bischoff to Vegas. The buzz is that the Islanders will be looking to add a top-line forward in the coming days. There's also the not so small matter of inking captain John Tavares to an extension as he will be entering the final year of his current deal, so there's going to be mounting pressure on Isles GM Garth Snow.

McPhee also cut deals with nine other teams stockpiling draft picks and prospects, including a deal with Tampa that saw the Bolts send a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick, along with prospect Nikita Gusev to Vegas in order for Vegas to pick Jason Garrison, 32, who is in the final year of his contract with a $4.6 million cap hit. Having already dealt Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Tampa GM Steve Yzerman has some flexibility moving forward and is looking to add some help on the blue line.

The biggest add for the Golden Knights in our opinion? Getting emerging young defenseman Shea Theodore in exchange for also taking veteran Clayton Stoner from Anaheim. Theodore, 21, was terrific for the Ducks, but was a victim of the Ducks' glut of blue chip young defenders. Theodore, the 26th overall pick in 2013, has the potential to be a top four guy in Vegas for many years.

So, who goes? Good to his word McPhee went heavily with defensive assets adding 14 defensemen and not all of them, obviously, will be with the team in the fall. Marc Methot, selected from Ottawa Senators, has come up in trade talks and it figures that the stay for some of those defensemen selected by the Golden Knights will be very short indeed. The one area the team looks to be thin at is down the middle and the '17 draft is awash in talented centers.

The guy we're curious about along the blue line is Griffin Reinhart who was selected from Edmonton. The son of former NHLer Paul Reinhart was taken fourth overall by the New York Islanders in 2012. The Oilers then gave up a first and a second-round pick to acquire him, but it just hasn't happened for him in terms of his development. A new start in Las Vegas may not be a bad thing for the defenseman and for the Golden Knights.

Was a bit surprised that McPhee didn't go heavier with goaltenders, taking only three; Fleury, who agreed to waive his no-move clause with the Pittsburgh Penguins to be selected by Las Vegas, Calvin Pickard and Berube. McPhee eschewed Antti Raanta in New York and Philipp Grubauer, whom he drafted in Washington and another former Caps netminder Michal Neuvirth. Love the Pickard pick and remain surprised that he was exposed by Colorado ahead of Semyon Varlamov given Varlamov's injury issues. Pickard has been up and down, but he was excellent for Canada at the World Championships and has a chance to give the Golden Knights a solid one-two combination in goal.

No surprise that the Golden Knights took Cody Eakin from the Dallas Stars even if Foley announced the pick ahead of schedule. McPhee drafted Eakin 85th overall in 2009 when he was the GM in Washington, and Eakin will be counted on to play up and down the Golden Knights lineup taking key faceoffs and chipping in offensively.

Offense is going to be an issue for the Golden Knights as has historically been the case with expansion teams, but credit McPhee for adding decent skill up front including Jonathan Marchessault from Florida and then adding another talented forward in Reilly Smith, who was originally selected 69th overall by Dallas in 2009. Marchessault surprised many by leading the Florida Panthers with 30 goals last season and Smith had 25 goals two seasons ago when they won the Atlantic Division, although he slumped to 15 last season. Smith is under contract through the 2021-22 season with a hefty $5 million annual cap hit giving the Panthers some cap flexibility.

Still with offense, no surprise that former Dallas forward James Neal was snapped up. He instantly becomes the team's go-to goal-scorer having scored at least 20 goals in all nine NHL seasons. He was part of a Preds team that came within two wins of a Stanley Cup this spring.

Leadership? Got loads in guys like veteran defenseman Garrison, who will also be counted on to contribute some offense from the back end with his booming shot. Methot was a key part of an Ottawa Senators team that took eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh to double overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final and if he stays in Vegas will be a glue guy. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare played in the World Cup of Hockey and will counted on by head coach Gerard Gallant to kill penalties. David Perron, a three-time 20-goal scorer, will also be asked to set the tone in the Golden Knights locker room.

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB

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